Matt Nippert is a business investigations reporter.

Engineer denies inappropriate spending

Auckland Transport corruption case. Pictured are defendants Stephen Borlase and Murray Noone at Auckland High Court. Photo / Doug Sherring
Auckland Transport corruption case. Pictured are defendants Stephen Borlase and Murray Noone at Auckland High Court. Photo / Doug Sherring

An engineer accused of bribing Auckland council staff has forcefully denied there was anything inappropriate in his spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars to lavishly entertain public officials.

Stephen Borlase, 52, and former Rodney District Council and Auckland Transport senior manager Murray Noone are on trial in the High Court at Auckland, facing charges of corrupting a public official through bribery.

Borlase is also facing charges of inflating invoices in order to cover the cost of $1.1 million in payments to Noone that are alleged to have been on-charged to council.
The pair have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Borlase, under questioning from his lawyer Ron Mansfield, today told the court that taking clients to lunches and dinners at "fancy restaurants", to rugby games, or paying for their international travel and accommodation was just "normal business".

He said the philosophy of his business Projenz, founded in 1997, was "work hard, play hard".

"From our point of view the prime objective was to ensure the work outputs were completed on time. That often meant long hours to achieve what the client wanted. Obviously, working closely alongside clients, being able to socialise - going to lunch or a rugby game - was important," he said.

Asked about the intent of providing entertainment and travel benefits to clients - in this case council staff - Borlase said such activity: "Broke down that pure work relationship
and fostered the development of a healthy relationship."

Directly asked by Mansfield whether these gifts were ever intended to exert "inappropriate" influence, Borlase firmly replied: "Absolutely not. No."

Part of the Crown's case relies on how Borlase coded payments into his company's accounts.

Most of the alleged bribes were tagged as being related to lucrative roading contracts with RDC and Auckland Transport.

Borlase said he had taken no commerce or accounting papers at university and agreed with Mansfield's characterisation that he was "novice" in this area and described his skills in this area himself as "pretty raw".

"Is fair to say you learned on the job what was required in terms of accounting and administration?" Mansfield asked.

"I had little choice," Borlase said.

Mansfield asked Borlase what point of difference Projenz had with its larger commercial rivals.

"The whole Projenz ethos was to separate ourselves from those corporate companies," Borlase said.

Asked by Mansfield about the importance of relationship-building in the sector, Borlase said:

"It was key - making sure people could identify with who they saw on paper." "The point of difference was that relationship," he said.

Asked if he had any criminal convictions, Borlase - wearing an open-necked shirt and jacket as he has all trial - said only one, over an incident that dated back almost three decades.

"For disorderly behaviour for jumping off a ferry when I was in university," he said.

The trial, before Justice Sally Fitzgerald, continues into its fifth week.

- NZ Herald

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